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U.S. Department of Agriculture, Resettlement AdministrationRiver, The (Part I) (1937)

something has gone horribly wrong 8-p
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Classic documentary history of the exploitation of the resources of the Mississippi River Valley and the work being done to rehabilitate and reclaim the area. Director and writer: Pare Lorentz. Narrator: Thomas Chalmers. Photography: Willard Van Dyke, Stacey Woodard and Floyd Crosby. Editor: Leo Zochling. Music: Virgil Thomson.

This movie is part of the collection: Prelinger Archives

Producer: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Resettlement Administration
Sponsor: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Resettlement Administration
Audio/Visual: Sd, B&W
Keywords: New Deal: Conservation; Rivers: Mississippi; Infrastructure

Creative Commons license: Public Domain

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Average Rating: 4.50 out of 5 stars4.50 out of 5 stars4.50 out of 5 stars4.50 out of 5 stars4.50 out of 5 stars

Reviewer: fsvan - 5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars5.00 out of 5 stars - January 16, 2005
Subject: Environmental Problems
Marvelous movie. Reflects the employment of skilled writers and artists by the New Deal during the 1930's. Wonderful photos, grand background music and blank verse naration. Presents environmental problems of the Mississippi valley in historical context. Only the then popular solution (in Part II) of multiple dams built by government under the Tennessee Valley Authority rings false today. The pictures of poor southern sharecroppers are especially moving and recall Walker Evans' photos in Phillip Agee's "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men". A noted book also from the 30's.
Reviewer: Spuzz - 4.00 out of 5 stars4.00 out of 5 stars4.00 out of 5 stars4.00 out of 5 stars - May 17, 2004
Subject: Rolling (too long) down the river
Very good doucmentary about the problem a river faces, and the problems a river gives to it's citizens. The film is chockful of amazing images, great narration and soaring music. My only problem with it is that it runs far too long. Pretty soon, your interest starts to wane when it starts talking about power and whatnot. But still, it's a pretty amazing download, and I will say it's reccomended.


Contents. History of the exploitation of the resources of the Mississippi River Valley and indication of the work being done to reclaim the area.

Views are shown of the Rockies in the West and the Alleghenies in the East, and of typical scenes of the Mississippi watershed from Minnesota to the sea. A map shows the vast network of rivers that flow into the Mississippi. The commentator says that the water from nearly two-thirds of the continent flows down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Along the banks of the lower Mississippi levees are being built to hold the river off the valley. These dikes, says the commentator, were begun by the French and Spanish before the Louisiana Purchase and were extended by us until they reached a thousand miles to the mouth of the Ohio.

The history of the Mississippi River, beginning with pre-Civil War days, is traced. Before the war, commerce of the inland states was sent in steamboats to the sea. There are scenes of cotton being picked, bound into bales, and rolled on board river boats. The Civil War interrupted that trade. Ruined southern homes symbolize the economic collapse of the South following the war. While the war was immediately responsible for that collapse, the soil which had been impoverished by a quarter of a century of frenzied cotton growing was a large contributing factor. Planters from the Old South moved westward. At the same time new industries arose -- lumbering in the North, coal and iron mining in the North and East. There is a series of views of lumbering and mining activities as the commentator tells of the rapid exploitation of these resources. Towns and cities sprang up in the Mississippi Valley and with them mills and factories and railroads.

The results of planless exploitation began to appear. The grasslands were plowed and the forests were cut over. There was no covering to hold the moisture, and more and more of the topsoil was washed away. In 1937 the river could no longer hold the excess water, and the worst flood in United States history was the result. The Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Civilian Conservation Corps, Works Progress Administration, and Red Cross were all called out to reinforce the levees and rescue the sick and drowning. The sharecroppers of the South suffer from the waste of the valley. They live in the richest river valley in the world but are ill-clad, ill-housed, and ill-fed. There are views of miserable living conditions among the sharecroppers.

The final sequence suggests the program which the government has undertaken to rehabilitate the river valley. The Tennessee Valley Authority is presented as a part of a program to reconstruct and conserve the resources of the valley. Civilian Conservation Corps boys are shown planting trees on cutover land. A model agricultural community is built and farmers are instructed in scientific tilling of the soil. The Tennessee Valley Authority provides electricity at a low cost to the people of the valley.

Appraisal. Reported very good for (1) tracing the history of the exploitation of the resources of the Mississippi River Valley, (2) suggesting the causes of floods and soil erosion and showing their resultant waste in human and natural resources, (3) indicating some governmental attempts to correct past abuses and rehabilitate blighted areas and their inhabitants, (4) developing an understanding and appreciation of some of the social and economic problems of the Mississippi River Valley, and (5) stimulating a sense of the danger inherent in the destruction of our natural resources.

The film blends photography, music, and commentary into an effective pattern dealing with an important aspect of American culture. The musical accompaniment and the poetic commentary heighten the emotional appeal of the film. In some classes these elements were given particular attention in the study of the film. Some teachers regarded the section on the Tennessee Valley Authority as propaganda. Teachers who wish a purely matter-of-fact presentation of the topic of conservation will not wish to use this film.

Photography and sound are excellent.


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